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As it starts up, it only ever gets that far before spontaneously rebooting. It won't even respond to attempts to boot from the CD rom.

I've put a HD from an identical machine into it instead and it works absolutely fine; when I put my HD in as a secondary drive, I can see everything on it absolutely fine, it just won't boot when it's the only HD in the machine.

This started when my Vista install became corrupted (the machine dual-boots into Ubuntu), and the restore process essentially re-isntalled Vista. It worked once, but after I installed a few 'windows updates', it needed a reboot, and it hasn't worked since. Not even into Ubuntu, or booting from CD rom. Short of installing the drive as a secondary one on another machine, downloading all the data off it and reformatting, is there a way to fix this?

EDIT: Just did some more experimenting; nothing I do convinces it to boot from the CD rom, EXCEPT disconnecting that drive altogether. With a different HD in, or no HD at all, it boots from CD rom just fine. With that drive in, even if it's supposed to boot from the CD rom first or if I specifically select the CD rom from the boot menu, it still fails.

Further edit: Well, even unplugging the drive to persuade it to boot from CD first, then plugging the drive in failed. So, with it installed as a secondary HD, I did a low-level format, and it finally decided to allow it to boot from CD. Went through the full 're-installing vista' thing from the recovery CD... and now that it's a bootable HD again, it STILL won't boot from the CD when I ask it to, it just goes straight into the Vista install.

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migrated from Oct 23 '11 at 19:26

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"It won't even respond to attempts to boot from the CD rom." <- that should be possible under any circumstances. Double-check BIOS boot settings. – korkman Oct 23 '11 at 14:16
Already did, believe me. I changed it to boot from CD first, no difference. – Flynn1179 Oct 23 '11 at 17:26

So your BIOS mistakes the hard drive in question for an optical drive (first time I hear this, but Vista never stops surprising). Since you can install the drive as secondary, you should be able to overwrite the MBR with GRUB2 and thus restore a sane bootloader (GRUB2 was installed with Ubuntu, then overwritten by Vista and now it is up to you to install GRUB2 again). You will need grub-setup, grub-install and chroot. Read up on reinstalling a grub bootloader.

That is, provided the other hard drive you can boot contains a form of Linux to execute the GRUB commands. If not, plan B would be to boot off CD-ROM with no drive attached, then add the SATA HDD on-the-fly. Do not attempt this should it be an IDE HDD.

For a nice bootable CD with grub tools I can recommend both "System Rescue CD" and "grml". The Ubuntu CD should come with rescue tools as well.

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The weird thing is, as long as that HD is plugged in, it only ever boots from the primary HD, even if that one was a secondary. Right now I've got a working HD as primary, the broken one as secondary, and the boot set to load from floppy/CD ONLY, no HD. And it still boots the vista install on the primary HD. There doesn't seem to be any way to get it to boot from a recovery disk with that HD in the machine; It's SATA though, I'll try plugging it in after booting- I didn't think that would work. – Flynn1179 Oct 24 '11 at 5:23

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